Moments before the opening tip, Kelly Graves made his way down to the visiting bench and greeted his favorite protege.
By the end of the first quarter, Colorado coach JR Payne, who played for Graves at St. Mary’s and was an assistant for him at Gonzaga, looked like she needed another hug.
No. 4 Oregon scored the first 16 points of the game and cruised to a 102-43 victory over Payne’s painful-to-watch Buffaloes on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.
Ruthy Hebard scored 24 points on 10-for-10 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Ducks (21-1, 10-0), who won their 14th consecutive game without breaking much of a sweat.
Colorado did not make a field goal in the first quarter and was 0-for-14 shooting before Mya Hollingshed finally made a layup 11 minutes, 58 seconds into the game.
The crowd of 6,350 gave the visitors a round of encouraging applause, but the Buffaloes’ confidence was clearly shaken.
“In that fourth quarter, it was hard to enjoy it,” Graves said. “(Oregon assistant) Jodie (Berry) and I said, we just feel for JR.”
Colorado senior guard Kennedy Leonard, who is easily Payne’s best player, missed her seventh consecutive game with a foot injury.
The Buffaloes (10-11, 0-11), who went 10-1 during nonconference play, were on pace for the worst shooting performance in Pac-12 history until going 9-for-14 in the fourth quarter to finish the game 25.4 percent (16-for-63) from the field.
“I think Kennedy Leonard, people are realizing, may be the most important player to any team,” Graves said. “She’s hopefully going to be back in a week or two. That would make them certainly better down the stretch.”
Maite Cazorla hit a 3-pointer to give Oregon a 27-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. The senior point guard had 16 points in the first half to personally outscore Colorado.
“I’m just trying to be more aggressive,” said Cazorla, who also scored 16 points during Friday’s 87-65 win over No. 14 Utah. “(Graves) wanted me to be more aggressive.”
Freshmen guard Taylor Chavez knocked down a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 30-2 before Hollingshed’s basket.
The Ducks led 54-13 at the intermission after shooting 66.7 percent (22-for-33) from the field and holding the bumbling Buffaloes to 14.3 percent (4-for-28).
Hebard, who was second in the NCAA in field-goal percentage (69.6) entering the game, scored 13 points in the first half. The junior forward also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds in only 22 minutes of work.
“We just wanted to start out hot again and stay hot throughout all four quarters,” Hebard said. “I think we just keep working on us, like coach likes to say. The Ducks don’t want to beat the Ducks. So we just go out, keep playing hard.”
Oregon led 64-17 midway though the third quarter after a basket by Hebard, giving her 17 points on 8-for-8 shooting. Colorado had arrived at 17 points on 5-for-37 (13.5 percent) shooting at that point.
Payne’s team proceeded to miss its next 10 shots and trailed 69-18 after a left-handed hook shot by Lydia Giomi.
Hebard’s buzzer-beater extended Oregon’s lead to 74-22 at the end of the third quarter. Colorado finished the frame 3-for-21 (14.3 percent) from the field, including 1-for-9 behind the 3-point arc.
“I thought for four quarters we really moved the ball well, shared the ball,” Graves said after Oregon finished 58.0 percent from the field with 21 assists and six turnovers. “It was a good effort. A lot of people scored and contributed tonight. It makes everybody feel better.”
The Buffaloes made five of their first six shots in the fourth quarter, but the Ducks’ reserves continued to dominate on the offensive end.
Morgan Yeager scored five consecutive points, Giomi completed a three-point play and Oti Gildon knocked down two jumpers to make the score 88-33.
Another 3-pointer by Chavez had the crowd on its feet as the Ducks eclipsed the 100-point mark with 1:12 remaining.
All nine players who entered the game for Oregon scored at least five points.
“I thought we got off to a sluggish start at the end of the third quarter and early fourth quarter, but after they played for a few minutes together they really started to gel and they looked good,” Graves said of his bench, which finished with 27 points. “It was nice to see both Morgan and Taylor get time at the point guard spot without Sabrina (Ionescu) and Maite.
“Those are valuable minutes.”
Satou Sabally finished with 15 points in 24 minutes, and Ionescu had 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 26 minutes.
The defending Pac-12 champions now enter the toughest stretch of the regular season with road games at California and No. 8 Stanford next weekend, followed by back-to-back Civil War matchups against No. 9 Oregon State.
“I’m really excited for the rest of the schedule. It’s going to be great, really competitive,” Hebard said. “I know we’re going to prepare really well for Cal and Stanford and then OSU.”